When walking through Amport village today it is usually a very quiet place, a dormitory village. Most people travel by car and there is no suggestion that productive work is done. It was very different in the early part of the 20th century. Amport was a bustling place with a grocery and a butcher shop and small workshops plus some bigger concerns. The main method of transport for both goods and people was the railway and, significantly, there was a station in Amport Parish. It was to the north of the parish, called Weyhill Station, and on the line that runs north from Red Post Junction. This line now stops at Ludgershall but originally went further north and linked to the main line southwest of Hungerford. Weyhill Station would have been the way that most goods would have got to Amport (particularly the most significant fuel: coal) and then been delivered by horse and cart. There was also a brewery in Amport, again in the north of the parish at the junction of Sarson Lane and the Amesbury Road, that became part of Strongs Brewery of Romsey. There is a memorial stone at that junction, erected by one of the partners of the brewery, that commemorates the 15th Marquess and other soldiers killed in the Boer War.
It seems that Amport’s parish boundary had been established by the end of the 10th century. Its layout was unusual when compared to other local parishes; whereas the others tended to be long and narrow, Amport had two long arms, one extending westward to the Wiltshire border and one northward to include Appleshaw.
There are two principal factors that have determined the layout of most villages. These were the local ‘Lord of the Manor’ and the Church. Both have had a significant effect on the layout of Amport. The Church was prominent for the boundaries of the parish, and the Marquesses of Winchester and cadet members of the family were responsible for the disposition of the farms and cottages. This has resulted in Amport being a spread-out estate village, unlike other local villages that still have central farms and cottages as a focus around the church.
The family to have had extensive influence on Amport were the Pauletts, ennobled as the Marquess of Winchester in 1551 although a Marquess did not live at Amport until 1794. Amport House was until 1918 the last fragment of the Paulett estate. Despite family name changes, descent through the female line and being sold to others between 1306 and 1649, it had been much in the same family’s hands since William the Conqueror gave it and many other estates in Hampshire to Hugh de Port, one of his most trusted lieutenants. The Saxon name of the Pillhill Brook that runs through Amport was then the ‘Anne’ and has given its name via Anne de Port to Amport and also to Abbots Ann and Anna Valley.
By various marriages the name of Hugh de Port’s descendants finally became Paulett in the 15th century and steadily grew in importance until, at the time of Henry VIII, Sir William Paulett, Controller of the King’s Household, was created first Marquess of Winchester and received extensive grants of monastic land in Hampshire. His main seat was Basing Castle which, with much rebuilding, he turned into the “greatest of any subject’s house in England, yea, larger than most the King’s palaces’.
In the Civil War the fifth Marquess was a Royalist and defended Basing Castle until Cromwell captured and demolished it; its owner had to flee to France. At the Restoration he got his estates back but not, however, the money he had paid in fines.
Since the time of Hugh de Port there had been many owners and tenants of Amport House and many legal battles about the ownership. The owner at the time of the civil war one Richard Goldman, a staunch Royalist supporter. It is possible that for this he was ‘compounded for delinquency’ at the start of the Commonwealth in 1649 and given a fine of £150 that represented about a sixth of his assets. He sold Amport House at this time to Lord Henry Paulet, the brother of fifth Marquess of Winchester. Thus the blood line of Hugh de Port regained the ‘Lord of the Manor’ of Amport.
In the early part of the 18th century, the medieval village of Amport consisted of village houses south of the church and farmyards to the north east. The then ‘Lord of the Manor’, a cadet member of the Paulett family, wanted to create a park around his house near the church and the first of three migrations of Amport villagers took place. The southernmost villagers’ houses were swept away and rebuilt besides what is now Amport Green.
In 1686 the sixth Marquess of Winchester was active in the support for William of Orange to become William the Third. His reward was to be elevated to Duke of Bolton. When, in 1794, Harry, Sixth Duke of Bolton and Eleventh Marquess of Winchester, died without an heir the dukedom expired. The Duke’s Hampshire seat, Hackwood Park, and his Yorkshire estate, Bolton Castle, passed to a half-sister, the Fifth Duke’s illegitimate daughter, but the Marquessate of Winchester devolved to George Paulett of Amport. For the first time, a Marquess of Winchester lived at Amport House.
George Paulett was sixty-six when he succeeded as Marquess. He died six years later and was succeeded by his son, Charles. The original Amport estate was vast, taking in the whole of the area around what is known as Andover Airfield, the villages of Thruxton, Monxton, Grateley and most of Quarley, plus large tracts of land south of the present railway line.
There have been several Amport Houses in the area of the current one. In the 18th century Amport House was probably a substantial manor house but in the 19th century two houses were built by new owners to keep up with the current fashions.
By the end of the 19th century the estate ran its own dairy and cheese room, blacksmith’s and carpenter’s shops, its own laundry and even made its own bricks. It employed over 100 people, not including those on the various farms.
But the effect of the First World War coupled with high taxation hastened the end of the Paulett estate. Lavish entertaining and high gambling stakes led to increasing debts. Between November 1918 and July 1919 the estate was broken up and sold. Many of the lots (including Amport House) failed to reach their reserve price at auction and were sold privately whilst many pieces of land (including prime timber) went for knock-down prices. Captain R W Philipson purchased the house and part of the estate but sold it within about 18 months. His best known act was to donate an ex-army wooden hut that he set up on the Green. This became the village hall, known as ‘The Hut’, until it was demolished in the 1970s.
There was a third move of the population of Amport in the late 1940s. The cottages on The Green had become very dilapidated to the extent that they were hardly fit for human habitation. Most of the inhabitants moved to the new Council Houses built on Sarson Lane as Sarson Close. The new tenants were delighted with the kitchens and lavatories as opposed to the cottages with damp walls and earth closets.
The RAF finally bought Amport House in 1957 and later its role changed. It became the RAF Chaplains’ School and until recently, as the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre. It has now been sold to a Hotel company.